Friday, July 18, 2014

Bonjour Montreal

I ventured out of the house for a stroll around Montreal, mainly the Old Montreal, Old Port and downtown area around McGill University, where I spent my days as a student. Montreal feels so small, especially after living in Seoul and Tokyo. You can pretty much walk or cycle everywhere, which is great. The sole metro system (a grand total of 4 lines) doesn't ever get crowded, even during rush hour- or at least, the crowded Montreal metro is like a national holiday on a Tokyo weekday.

I love how much space there is, and how places are never crowded. It's still insanely cold, which I think is unusually cold for Montreal at this time of the year. Yesterday morning was only 15 degrees, which is a huge drop coming from hot and muggy Tokyo. I really hope it warms up as I don't have anything to wear, but it's a nice break from the heat. My skin and hair finally look normal and not acting up like in the Japanese humidity. I always feel so dirty in Japan, no kidding.

I feel like a stranger in my own home; even though I speak the language and understand everything (which feels so amazing), I keep forgetting the social 'rules' and I've been feeling quite anxious about it. I keep forgetting we have to tip here after a meal at the restaurant. Even cafes have tip jars by the register. The thing that surprised me the most is that prices are rounded up, which wasn't the case when I was living here. For example, I bought something that came up to 16.02$, and I handed the cashier 16.10$ in cash (so I would get minimal change back), but he said it was unnecessary, as they round it down to 16.00$. If it would be 16.03$, they would round it up to 16.05$. So I guess they eliminated pennies?! I'm late on those news. I feel especially stressed out about this rounding up thing, but thankfully, Canadians are forgiving if you don't know the rules, and I had a laugh about it with the cashier. He must have thought I was an idiot, perfectly speaking the language but not knowing the basics.

I'm used to being in Japan where there are so many social rules to follow, and after 5 years I finally learned most of them and can coexist without standing out too much. Canada doesn't have much social 'rules', everyone does as they please and I have to get used to that. I got stuck behind the exit turnstile at the metro, because I didn't remember how to get out. You just have to go and push, but I kept looking for a place to enter the ticket. I couldn't find it and I was too embarrassed to just try pushing (how Japanese of me), so I stayed there for a few minutes, lost and confused. I'm frustrated by how ridiculous the payment system is for the metro, it's so complicated with that Opus card that you can't just simply charge. You have to pick which kind of access you want, like evenings only or weekdays, etc. It made me feel thankful for Suica and Pasmo!

Montreal is so beautiful, especially the streets of Old Montreal, and the apartments lining Parc Lafontaine, Le Plateau Mont-Royal and even the McGill Ghetto (which isn't an actual ghetto!). There are trees everywhere, and the homes look great on the outside, and I bet they're decorated just as nicely on the inside. So many people ride bikes, and there are many bike lanes. Strolling through Parc Lafontaine, I noticed so many people running, doing yoga, or just playing guitar and having picnics, on a weekday. Life is so slow here, and so relaxing compared to what I'm used to in Tokyo. Many Montreal people are very active, but I noticed many overweight people too. However, the majority seem so confident with their bodies, judging by the clothes they wear.

I also like doing laundry, it's so quick with the washer and dryer, and everything smells so good. I love the kitchen space, and just the home space in general. I kept telling my mom that her kitchen is twice the size of my Tokyo apartment, but she doesn't believe me. Although I'm not sure if I'd ever be happy in Montreal, I can't help but appreciate the high quality of life, something that is missing in Japan, at least in my case.

I'm getting ready for a weekend of BBQ'ing and seeing one of my oldest friends, who now has a toddler and a baby on the way, and perhaps trying my hand at driving a car. Surprisingly my Canadian drivers' license is still valid, I just had to update my photo, and I'm good to go (although I don't think I should be trusted to drive further than my street). Next week I'll be staying in an Old Montreal apartment, to be closer to the fun stuff.

Now if you allow me, I'll go flip through the huge pile of affordable English magazines I found at the bookstore- I gasped when I saw 5$ for Vogue, and not 30$!

How I missed those breakfasts!

How pretty is that?!

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Old MTL

SO MUCH street art around the city

Gorgeous Parc Lafontaine- Adrien, this one's for you!

Metro view from the top

Gate of Chinatown

McGill University

Poutine at La Banquise!

Le Cartet, some amazing Illy coffee


Rachel Anastasia said...

The penny has been gone for a while now! It's so much nicer. Loving your homecoming posts :)

philly said...

I'm loving these homecoming posts, too, Vivian. I keep checking your site to see whether you've posted the next one yet. So don't be overly alarmed if Google Analytics is telling you that more people are clicking on your site but clicking away. Bots don't know everything.(Thank God. Bots remind me of Miki D's: They serve up what you ask for fast, but it isn't necessarily good food. But I digress.)

Very Funny! You said that you couldn't recall how to get out of the turnstile and were momentarily lost and confused. That's exactly the sort of thing that happens both ways--you forget how the simplest thing is done or which side of the street/escalator people walk/stand on. Have fun driving (on the correct side of the Canadian road) Not so funny if you forget that part.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, Montreal. Easily my second favorite place in North America, and that's only because I feel obligated to put my hometown (San Francisco) first. Have a wonderful time!

Christine said...

I love your stories! Reverse culture shock is always funny. You will remember how everything works after a few days.

Unknown said...

I love your homecoming posts as well! I'm glad you're getting to enjoy such an array of fresh fruit, the one thing I desperately missed when I lived in Japan.

Your description of Montreal sounds amazing, like a city I would love to live in! Have you ever been to Boston before? I live right outside of Boston but have never been a big fan. I would be curious to see what you thought of it if you've been there.

Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Anonymous said...

Feeling dirty in Japanese heat + humidity - yes!!! I never seem to be able to describe this adequately to people. I was never a fan of summer until I had my first Sydney one after Tokyo. Sydney gets pretty humid, but you don't feel as... unclean... as you do in Tokyo. It always felt like the pollution was sticking to me skin! Glad to hear you're having a lovely - if slightly awkward! - time back in your home country. Readjustment is so funny... years later I still bow slightly when cars stop for me at a crossing. And I cover my mouth with my hand way more than is necessary. And nod a lot in conversations!

オリたん said...

There's a Notre Dame replica in Montreal? Oh no, if I never afford to go to Paris, I hope that I can at least make it to Montreal someday.

Enjoy home! I am making a trip back to the states for work, it's not home but I am hoping something reassuring comes from it because at the moment the whole idea feels stressful.

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh because my mini-trip to Montreal over the weekend had me feeling and acting the same way as you. It was my first trip to a large city basically since Tokyo so I automatically defaulted to the rules there; waiting for a walk light to cross the street, trying to find the spot at the metro gate where I touch my card to get OUT of the station.

And you're right, the Montreal metro is a BREEZE compared to Tokyo.

I also got a very chill, slow vibe from Montreal while we were there too which was really nice compared to the hustle and bustle I was accustomed to in Tokyo. And I love how comfortable people are with themselves. Whatever size/shape, they rock it! That was so refreshing to see.

If I could speak French or knew that I could find a decent job without it I would live there in a second!